Global News Journal

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Two views on Obama’s handling of Karzai

May 7, 2009

With President Hamid Karzai now looking all but unassailable in Afghanistan's August election, two articles out this week - one from Washington and the other from India - offer mirror-image analyses of President Barack Obama's handling of the Afghan leader. They should really be read as companion pieces since both offer insights into the workings of the Obama administration and the complexities of Afghan politics.  Reading both together also highlights how different the world looks depending on your perspective, whether writing from America or Asia.According to this article in the Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (highlighted by Joshua Foust at Registan.net) the Obama administration had decided to keep Karzai at arm's length. It says Obama's advisers faulted former President George W. Bush for forging too personal a relationship with Karzai through bi-weekly video conferences and as a result creating such cosiness that it became hard for his administration to put pressure on the Afghan government."It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of 'How are you doing? How is your son?'" it quotes a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions as saying. "Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations.""Obama's advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader," the report said.  "Obama intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funnelling more money to local governors."Retired Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has a rather different reading on the wisdom of the Obama administration's approach. In this article in the Asia Times Online, headlined What Obama could learn from Karzai, (highlighted by Marie-France Calle on her French-language blog), he says the Americans allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred by the Afghan President by keeping him at arms-length."In retrospect, United States President Barack Obama did a great favour to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by excluding him from his charmed circle of movers and shakers who would wield clout with the new administration in Washington," he writes. "Obama was uncharacteristically rude to Karzai by not even conversing with him by telephone for weeks after he was sworn in, even though Afghanistan was the number one policy priority of his presidency."But Karzai, he says, had the last laugh, as the opprobrium heaped upon him by the west raised his standing in Afghan eyes. Karzai had been able to manoeuvre himself into a strong position through weeks of Afghan-style backroom negotiations, capped by a decision by a popular candidate to pull out of the election race."The Afghan experience with democracy offers a good lesson for Obama: it is best to keep a discreet distance and leave the Afghans to broker power-sharing on their own terms, according to their own ethos and tradition," he writes. "However, Obama has a long way to go in imbibing the lessons of democracy in the Hindu Kush ..."(Reuters photos: President Karzai, and Karzai with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Photos by Yuri Gripas and Jonathan Ernst)

Should Europe help Obama out over Guantanamo?

April 30, 2009

 Barely noticed, the United States sent a top diplomat to  Europe this week to seek help on an important commitment by President Barack Obama — to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
   
The trip by veteran envoy Dan Fried to Brussels and Prague is part of efforts to persuade European states to take in some of the 241 remaining detainees at the prison, synonomous for many with rights abuses in the “war on terror” under U.S. President George W. Bush.
   
Europe has long called for the jail to be shut down, but only a few countries — such as France, Portugal and Albania — have  volunteered to resettle any inmates from third countries such as Afghanistan or China.
   
 Time is steadily running out if Obama is to achieve his goal of clearing and closing the prison by next January.  A perceived  lack of European help could sour the much-vaunted new start in transatlantic ties which both sides say they want.
  
But many European officials are asking why they should help the United States out of a hole it dug itself into.
   
The main problem does not involve the small number of  so-called high-value  terror suspects in the camp — they will remain in detention and Washington does not seriously expect anyone to come forward and take them off its hands.
   
Nor does it involve the 17 detainees who have already been cleared for release. The really hot issue is the fate of  the remaining detainees who are not high risk but have not been given the full all-clear.
   
 European officials fear the affair could turn into a legal and political nightmare. Who will take which detainees? Given that much of Europe is now border-free, how will one country reassure its neighbours if it agrees to resettle inmates? And doesn’t the fact that European states have different national policies on surveillance and detention pose extra problems?
   
Worse still, the political fall-out could be devastating. If , for example, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner carried out an attack in Germany just before an election this year, how would Chancellor Angela Merkel explain it to voters? 

from MacroScope:

You say ’30s, we say ’20s

April 7, 2009

Neil Dwane, fund firm RCM's chief investment officer in Europe, has an interesting take on the current spat between Germany and the United States over printing money to get out of trouble. You can see Juergen Stark for the latest volley.

North Korean Revolutionary Tunes Sink to Bottom of the Sea

April 7, 2009

                                              By Jon Herskovitz

Sex, drugs and toxic shrubs: the best reads of March

April 3, 2009

Cubans indulge baseball mania at Havana’s “Hot Corner”

For all the shouting and nose-to-nose confrontations, visitors to Havana’s Parque Central might think they had walked into a brawl or counter-revolution … but here in the park’s Hot Corner,  the topic almost always under discussion is baseball, Cuba’s national obsession.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama takes Afghan war to Pakistan

March 27, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama set out his strategy to fight the war in Afghanistan on Friday, committing 4,000 military trainers and many more civillian personnel to the country, increasing military and financial aid to stabilise Pakistan and signalling that the door for reconciliation was open in Afghanistan for those who had taken to arms because of coercion or for a price.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Garrisons and force protection crowd out other objectives in Afghanistan

March 27, 2009

- Joshua Foust is a defense consultant who has just spent the last 10 weeks embedded with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He also blogs at Registan.net. Any opinions expressed are his own. -

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Talking to the Taliban and the last man standing

March 23, 2009

The debate about whether the United States should open talks with Afghan insurgents appears to be gathering momentum -- so much so that it is beginning to acquire an air of inevitability, without there ever being a specific policy announcement.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Has Pakistan become the central front?

March 4, 2009

In a report released late last month, the U.S. Atlantic Council think tank warned that the ramifications of state failure in Pakistan would be far graver than those in Afghanistan, with regional and global impact. "With nuclear weapons and a huge army, a population over five times that of Afghanistan and with an influential diaspora, Pakistan now seems less able, without outside help, to muddle through its challenges than at any time since its war with India in 1971."